The clear light of midday filtered in through the curtains of Applebloom's bedroom window, but she was in no condition to enjoy the glorious weather outside. She coughed into a tissue, then blew her dripping nose. The little yellow filly at once felt both uncomfortably warm under her bed's heavy quilt and chilly enough to want to burrow further beneath it.
On either side of Applebloom, her best friends Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo were equally suffering.
"Ah told y'all that tryin' to be 'Cutie Mark Crusader Frog Catchers' weren't no good idea," Applejack said as she bustled about her sister's room. "For one thang, Froggy Bottom Bog ain't no place for a buncha fillies to be muckin' about! And besides, what were you gonna do with all those frogs anyhow?"
"Sorry, big sis. I guess we didn't think that far ahead," Applebloom replied. She normally hated it when Applejack started with the 'Ah told you so's, but just didn't feel up to arguing her case. It had been a colossal blunder, after all -- like most of the Cutie Mark Crusaders' schemes.
"Thag you for lookig after us, Miss Applejag," Sweetie Belle offered, struggling with her congestion. Scootaloo nodded in agreement, then winced when the sudden motion made her head ache all the more.
"Aw shucks! T'ain't nuthin' to it, Sweetie," AJ waved it off. "Yer lucky Big Macintosh dragged y'all out of the swamp when he did. Coulda caught yer death o' cold or worse, 'et by the hydra! But you'll be right as rain by tomorrow, so Ah'ma head into town now and let yer families know y'all gonna be spendin' the night with us. Granny Smith'll keep an eye on ya while I'm gone," she added on her way out the door.
"Oh brother," Scootaloo groaned under her breath. "No offense, Applebloom, but your Granny is a serious snoozefest."
"She's not all that bad," Applebloom replied, suddenly feeling defensive of her kin. As the old green mare in question hobbled into the little filly's room, Applebloom piped up with, "Granny! Can you read us a story please?"
"Whaaat's that?" Granny Smith wheezed, putting a hoof up to her ear. "A story, you say? Well, I was hankerin' for a nap, but I s'pose a little readin' isn't too much to ask. Any one in particular?"
"The Princess Bridle!" Applebloom chirped, before her grandmother had even made it halfway to the bookcase.
"Ohoho! You sure do love that one, don't you? Why, my own mammy read that story to me when I was a filly an' I used to read it to your mammy," Granny Smith said with a touch of wistfulness.
Sweetie Belle cooed in delight at the title of the story, her green eyes as big and round as saucers. "I lub stories aboud princesses!"
In contrast, Scootaloo's head sank into her hooves. "Is this a kissing story? I don't think I can deal with that right now, girls."
"Give it a chance, Scoots!" Applebloom countered. "It's a tale of true love and high adventure!"
"High adventure, huh?" considered the orange pegasus. "That doesn't sound so bad. I'll try and stay awake."
Granny Smith seemed oblivious to their side-conversation. The old pony settled her arthritic hindquarters into a rocking chair beside Applebloom's bed and affixed a pair of half-moon reading spectacles upon her wrinkled snout. Granny cleared her throat noisily and began:
"The Princess Bridle by S. Morpastern. Chapter one...
Once upon a time, in the magical land of Unicornia, there lived a beautiful young seamstress. Her name was--
"Rarity!" Applebloom suddenly cut in.
"Wow! What a coincidence!" Sweetie Belle said in astonishment. Scootaloo's eyes narrowed in suspicion, but the orange pegasus held her tongue.
Granny Smith looked up from the page and blinked. "Oh? Was that her name?" She squinted and adjusted her spectacles, trying to make out the fading letters. "Awright, I reckon you know this story as well as I do, Applebloom. Ahem."
Her name was Rarity and she worked hard to make a name for herself in the fast-paced world of courtly fashion. That wasn't easy for a peasant to do and Rarity had little time for making friends, but an apprentice carpenter who worked across the crooked cobblestone street often caught her eye.
This young stallion labored without complaint under his ill-tempered and often-drunk craftmaster. But no matter how diligently he toiled, whenever Rarity glanced out her shop window, she always saw the quiet pony peering intently back at her.
One day, Rarity scrounged up the funds to commission a piece of furniture: a new cutting table; hers had become hopelessly lopsided. As luck would have it, the craftmaster was out for the day and Rarity found herself face-to-face with his handsome apprentice.
"These measurements must be precise," Rarity insisted, tearing her eyes away from his soulful gaze and back to the plans she had drafted.
"As you wish," the apprentice replied.
"And be careful with the drawers! I don't want my favorite tools getting stuck inside them."
"As you wish."
Rarity knew she was blushing and tried to ignore it. The apprentice hadn't looked at the plans half as long as he had at her, but she sensed no ill-intent behind his eyes. Rather, it seemed he was trying to say something of great import.
After their initial meeting, Rarity often found excuses to check in on the progress of her commission; when the craftmaster was out, of course. She eventually learned that the apprentice's name was--
"Davenport!" Sweetie Belle interrupted with a giggle.
"Who's Davenport?" Applebloom whispered behind a hoof.
"The pony who runs Quill & Sofa," Sweetie replied conspiratorially. "Ever since Rarity bought that new fainting couch, she's always going out to 'have a trot' with Mr. Davenport."
Scootaloo observed this exchange with curiosity, but despite her earlier reservations, she managed to keep an ear tuned to the unfolding story as well.
The mare's normally eloquent tongue betrayed her and she would stammer increasingly fastidious instructions at Davenport. But no matter how complicated the design became and how much more Rarity made him work, the handsome apprentice only ever replied with the same words: "As you wish."
In time, Rarity was amazed to discover that when Davenport was saying, "As you wish," what he meant was: "I love you." And even more amazing was the realization that she loved him back. Rarity kept making the table designs more complicated because she longed to be beside him.
The very next day, when Rarity entered the carpentry shop and Davenport looked up expectantly, she had no changes in the plans to give him. Instead, she laid her gentle hooves over his, leaned over the half-finished table, and gave him a kiss.
"Time out!" Scootaloo finally groused, holding her hooves up to form a T. "What is this, Applebloom? Are you trying to trick me? Where's the 'high adventure' you were talking about?"
"Whoa, nelly!" Applebloom responded in a fair imitation of her older sister. "Don't go puttin' the cart before the pony, Scoots. We gotta set the stage first."
"And what is it you two are doing?" Scootaloo hissed, lowering her voice. Not that Granny Smith noticed. At this further interruption, she yawned and her head started to droop sleepily.
"And everypony says I'm the slow one," cut in Sweetie Belle, an apple-eating grin on her face.
"Whenever Granny Smith reads me a story, I like to make stuff up and change it around," Applebloom finally explained. "She never remembers anyhow, so it's lotsa fun."
"Ooooh, now you tell me!"
"Granny!" Applebloom shouted. "Did you lose your place again?"
The old green mare popped awake, blinking blearily. "Nonsense, young'un! I know right where I was. Where was I? Oh, here we go..."
As a lowly apprentice, Davenport had no money for marriage and little hope of inheriting his master's shop any time soon. So he packed his few belongings and left to find his fortune in distant lands, riding a merchant airship. It was a troubling prospect for Rarity, who stopped Davenport at the pier and embraced him desperately.
"I fear I'll never see you again, darling," Rarity confessed tearfully.
"Of course you will," Davenport reassured her.
"But what if something happens to you? What if your ship crashes? Or is attacked by those dreadful pegasi? How could I live on without knowing your fate? That would be... that would be the worst possible thing!"
The handsome stallion pulled back to hold her gaze steadily and without fear. "Hear this now: You are stronger than you know, milady. No matter what distance or time may come between us, it is the strength of our love that will bring us back together."
"How can you be sure?"
"This is true love. Do you think this happens everyday?"
Alas, Davenport never reached his destination. His airship was attacked by a force that some ponies thought mere legend: the pirate ship Revenge, captained by the Dread Pirate Ne'er-Do-Well! Feared as the unstoppable brigand of the wilderness, Ne'er-Do-Well never left captives alive.
When Rarity got the news that her beloved had been murdered--
"Murdered by pirates is good!" Scootaloo said, grinning. But the filly's sudden bloodlust withered under Applebloom and Sweetie Belle's cool stares.
--she closed up her dressmaking shop and refused to see any customers. For days, Rarity neither slept nor ate. Though she was eventually compelled to reopen for business, the grief-stricken unicorn found little pleasure in her work. She swore an oath to herself: "I will never love again."